A Look at Trends in Schools and School Districts


he economic downturn has been particularly hard on schools and school districts. Respondents from schools and school districts, who made up 7.2 percent of the total response to the Industry Report survey, were the most likely to indicate that they were "extremely concerned" about the impact of the economic downturn on their facilities. Nearly half (49 percent) said they were extremely concerned. This makes sense, as funding for schools is often based on property taxes or funded through referenda, which may not receive the same level of support when taxpayers are already stretching their budgets. In what is hopefully good news for this sector, the recent stimulus package included funding for schools and school districts to retain staff and improve facilities.

The vast majority of respondents from schools (93.3 percent) were from public schools, while another 5.4 percent indicated they worked for private schools.

Similar to parks and recreation respondents, those from schools were more likely to indicate that they manage or operate a larger number of facilities. More than a quarter (28.9 percent) said they manage or operate 10 or more facilities. Over a third (36.2 percent) manage between four and nine facilities. And just 17.4 percent said they manage a single facility.

Economic Upheaval

Like many other segments of our survey population, this year's school respondents seem to be anticipating greater deviation from the status quo when it comes to the number of people using their facility—with more expecting higher or lower usage this year than last, and fewer expecting those numbers to hold steady.

School respondents were far more likely to report increasing numbers of people using their facilities this year. While 20.7 percent of last year's respondents projected an increase in that number from 2007 to 2008, this year a third (33.8 percent) of respondents actually reported such an increase.

That said, school respondents were also more likely to experience a drop in usage at their facilities than expected. While less than 1 percent of respondents to last year's survey projected a decrease from 2007 to 2008, this year a full 7.6 percent reported such a decrease.

Despite all of this, respondents from schools and school districts were still the most likely to report steady usage at their facilities. They were more likely than other respondents to report no change in usage from 2007 to 2008, and were more likely to project no change over the next two years. (See Figure 44.)

Respondents from schools and school districts were far more likely this year than last to be expecting lower revenues. While 6.5 percent of last year's respondents in this category predicted a drop in revenues from 2007 to 2008, 17.6 percent this year reported such a decrease. That number jumps to 30.8 percent projecting a decrease from 2008 to 2009, and 43.7 percent expecting a decrease from 2009 to 2010.

In fact, schools and school districts were more likely than other types of facilities to be expecting lower revenues over the next few years, and few were projecting any increases. For example, while around 40 percent of all respondents were projecting an increase in revenues between 2008 and 2009 (38.1 percent) and from 2009 to 2010 (41 percent), only about 12 percent of school respondents were expecting increases in the same period. (See Figure 45.)

Schools were also projecting the biggest drop in yearly operating expenditures from fiscal 2008 to 2010. The respondents from schools and school districts projected a decrease of 18.5 percent from an average annual operating budget of $2,343,000 in 2008 to $1,909,000 in 2010.

Recess Matters

Many schoolchildren have been getting less and less free time and fewer outlets for physical activity at school. The trend seems to have accelerated as schools responded to the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 by reducing recess time.

How important is recess? Many educators already know this, but some might be surprised to learn that taking a break during the school day leads to better classroom behavior.

A recent study, "School Recess and Group Classroom Behavior," published in the February 2009 issue of Pediatrics, looked at an equal number of U.S. girls and boys ages 8 to 9 years, and found that a break of 15 minutes or more was associated with better classroom behavior as judged by the teacher.

In addition to demonstrating this benefit of recess, the study showed that the trend especially impacts children from disadvantaged backgrounds. And, among children who do not have recess, almost two-thirds had minimal other physical activity in school. This is alarming, as school is where most kids spend the majority of their time, and many of them—particularly those who are disadvantaged and may live in areas that preclude them from taking part in activity outdoors—do not engage in physical activity outside of the school day.

In addition to the benefit of better behavior in the classroom, research has shown that recess can play an important role in social development, learning and health of children in elementary school.

School Construction

Respondents from schools and school districts were less likely than other respondents to have plans in place for new facilities, additions or renovations over the next three years. Half of respondents from schools and school districts said they have no construction plans over the next three years, compared to just over a third of all respondents. Around a quarter (23.6 percent) have plans for new facilities, and the same number have plans for additions. Just over a third (36.5 percent) have plans for renovations. (See Figure 46.)

School respondents last year were much more likely to indicate they had construction plans in place, with just 30.5 percent indicating they had no plans to build over the next three years.

School respondents last year were much more likely to indicate that they had construction plans, with just 30.5 percent indicating they had no plans to build over the next three years.

That said, schools are among the higher spenders for the construction plans they do have, second only to colleges and universities. On average, respondents from schools are planning to spend $7,426,000 on their construction plans, 53.6 percent more than the across-the-board average, and 6.9 percent more than last year's school respondents were planning to spend.

Also, recent legislation may have an impact on school's likelihood of committing to additional construction. H.R. 2187, the "21st Century Green High-Performing Public School Facilities Act," introduced by Rep. Ben Chandler (KY), would authorize $6.4 billion in fiscal 2010 for school construction projects. The funds could be used for projects that meet environmentally friendly standards for school modernization or renovations, including installing green roofs, improving infrastructure to encourage more bicycle and pedestrian access, and renovating energy and heating systems to improve efficiency.

Rick Fedrizzi, president, CEO and founding chairman of the U.S. Green Building Council, applauded the measure. "USGBC's vision is that every child will go to a green school within a generation," he said.

When it comes to what schoolchildren can take advantage of in terms of sports, fitness and fun, the features included in school facilities have changed little from last year's report. More than three-quarters of school respondents said their facilities currently include: bleachers and seating (85.2 percent), locker rooms (82.2 percent), and indoor sport courts and gymnasia (78.5 percent). More than two-thirds include outdoor running tracks (73.2 percent), concession areas (71.8 percent), natural turf sports fields (71.8 percent) and classrooms or meeting rooms (67.1 percent). More than half also include outdoor sports courts (63.1 percent), fitness centers (61.7 percent) and playgrounds (51.7 percent).

Bleachers and seating, and synthetic turf sports fields top the list of planned additions to schools respondents' facilities over the next three years. New to the top 10 planned additions this year are climbing walls and park structures. The top features school respondents plan to add to their facilities over the next three years include:

  1. Bleachers and seating
  2. Synthetic turf sports fields
  3. Locker rooms
  4. Concession areas
  5. Fitness centers
  6. Playgrounds
  7. Outdoor running tracks
  8. Classrooms and meeting rooms
  9. Climbing walls
  10. Park structures such as shade structures and restroom buildings

Active Education

Just as recess has been cut in schools across the country, many schools also have been cutting back on time for physical education. But in what the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association has hailed as good news, physical education recently got a boost.

For the first time in six years, SGMA reported, the Presidential budget included funding for the Carol M. White Physical Education Program, or PEP bill. Since 2001, PEP has enhanced K-12 physical education programs through more than $500 million in grants.

The PEP bill provides the only federal money to school districts and community-based organizations for physical education and innovative physical activity methods. President Obama's budget includes $78 million for PEP.

Through PEP, schools and other organizations can receive grants to purchase equipment and train instructors. It uses new technology, such as heart-rate monitors, pedometers and state-of-the-art fitness equipment and facilities to get kids active.


The programs to be found at schools and school district facilities are relatively predictable, though there have been some changes this year. Youth sports teams are again the top program included in these facilities, though they saw a jump. Last year, just over half of school respondents indicated they include youth sports teams, while this year, more than three-quarters (76.4 percent) said they offer them. Also seeing a big jump this year were fitness programs, which went from 35.8 percent last year to 55.6 percent this year. Swimming also saw a jump, from 30.1 percent last year to 38.2 percent this year.

On the other hand, daycare and preschool programs dropped out of the top 10 currently included programs. While 50.9 percent of school respondents last year indicated they offer such programs, this year, only 18.8 percent did so. Also dropping from last year's top 10 list were special needs programs, offered by 24.9 percent of last year's respondents, and 20.8 percent this year.

The top program school respondents said they are planning to add in the next three years was fitness programs. Other top programs planned include:

  1. Fitness programs
  2. Youth sports teams
  3. Education
  4. Sports tournaments or races
  5. Mind-body/balance
  6. Adult sports teams
  7. Sport training, such as tennis lessons
  8. Swimming
  9. Individual sports

The prevalence of fitness programs reflects the schools respondents' greater concern with fitness than the general survey population. This was one of the only groups for whom youth fitness and wellness, as well as general fitness and wellness, were listed as a top concern. More than a third of school respondents said youth fitness and wellness were a top current concern.

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